Raub Australian Gold Mining lawsuit (re defamation by villagers, Malaysia)
In September 2013, Australian mining company Raub Australian Gold Mining (RAGM) filed a defamation lawsuit in front of the High Court against Hue Shieh Lee, a resident of Bukit Koman and Vice-President of Ban Cyanide Action Group, a Malaysian activist group. The company alleges that some of Hue Shieh Lee’s statements were defamatory because they suggested that the company had allowed cyanide spills from its facility and was therefore directly responsible for causing health problems to the community. In February 2019, the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal filed by RAGM. The court ruled that the company could have corrected through a press release any inaccuracy in the view expressed by the defendant. The company was ordered to pay RM60,000 (US$14,365) in legal costs.
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In September 2013, Raub Australian Gold Mining Sdn Bhd (RAGM), a mining company operating in Bukit Koman, Malaysia, filed three defamation suits against three members of the Ban Cyanide Action Group, a local activist group. The company withdrew its suit against two of the three activists after they apologised in court for their allegations about the company’s operations. The only claim that went to trial was that against Hue Shieh Lee, a resident of Bukit Koman and Vice-President of Ban Cyanide Action Group, about statements made in two articles published in 2013 by Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today. In September 2012, the company initiated a separate defamation lawsuit against these two online news portals, which was dismissed. The lawsuit alleged that some of Hue Shieh Lee’s statements were defamatory because they suggested that the company had allowed cyanide spills from its facility and was therefore directly responsible for causing health problems to the Bukit Koman community. The second article contained allegedly defamatory statements about the limited number of community members employed at the company’s facility.
On 17 May 2016, the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed the suit, ruling that the mere announcement of the survey results did not amount to defamation of RAGM and that the company failed to prove that the statements contained in the second article were words exactly uttered by Hue Shieh Lee. RAGM appealed the decision and on 21 October 2016. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal noting that by expressing her concerns for local health conditions, Hue Shieh Lee was “exercising her rights as an activist” and that freedom of speech is a notion that must be construed in light of the fact that “we now live in a much more liberal society where the concept of transparency and accountability are very much part and parcel of our lives.” The Court endorsed the lower court’s reasoning and conclusions also on the second contested press article.
On 16 October 2017, RAGM obtained leave to appeal before the Federal Court of Appeal, Malaysia’s highest jurisdiction. In February 2019, the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal filed by RAGM and agreed with the Court of Appeal that “the respondent was protecting the welfare of the residents” and that the company could have corrected through a press release any inaccuracy in the view expressed by the defendant. The company was ordered to pay RM60,000 (US$14,365) in legal costs.
RAGM is no longer operating in Bukit Koman and is under liquidation. Local activists are now demanding that the government orders RAGM to clean up the operation zone and to rehabilitate the old mine.
A Victory and the Long Road to Justice in Malaysia, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), ELAW Bulletin, 27 Mar 2019
Malaysian court rules in favor of activist accused of defamation by transnational mining company, Real World Radio (Malaysia), 21 Mar 2019
Federal Court dismisses Raub Australian Gold Mining’s appeal in defamation suit, Malaymail, 13 Feb 2019
Interview with the attorney for the community, Gurdial Singh Nijar, KiniTV, 12 Feb 2019
Raub Australian Gold Mining defamation suit to go to Federal Court, The Star online (Malaysia), 16 Oct 2017
Bukit Koman villager wins in gold mine’s defamation suit, Malaysiakini, 16 May 2016
Gold mining company withdraws suit after activist apologises, The Star online (Malaysia), 9 Dec 2014
[PDF] Raub Australian Gold Mining Sdn Bhd v. Hue Shieh Lee (2019.02.13), Federal Court of Malaysia (Judgment), 13 Feb 2019
[PDF] Raub Australian Gold Mining Sdn. BHD v. Hue Shieh Lee, Malaysia Court of Appeal (Judgment), 21 Oct 2016